Magazine article Artforum International

Roxy Paine: James Cohan Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Roxy Paine: James Cohan Gallery

Article excerpt

Roxy Paine's work tends to fall into two quite different categories: machines that make art, and art that looks very much like nature. In the first category are devices called the "PMU" (painting manufacturing unit) and "Scumaks" (auto sculpture makers). With the aid of computer programs written by the artist, these devices create paintings in various historical styles and objects marked by Oldenburgian floppiness. The second category encompasses meticulously rendered sculptures of flora and fungi presented in pseudolaboratory settings (poison ivy occupying a vitrine; mushrooms growing from a gallery's wooden floor; poppies covering a neatly excised square of earth). But however different these two categories may appear, they are connected by similarities in process and intent.

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Paine's recent exhibition at James Cohan Gallery included a new gadget that imitates a natural sequence of events. Erosion Machine, 2005, consists of a mechanical arm that blows jets of air and silicon carbide grit at a block of sandstone housed inside a large glass case, thereby creating a miniature eroded landscape. The patterns etched on the block resemble natural canyons, mesas, and riverbeds but their forms are in fact determined by the weather records gathered in Binghamton, New York, in 1980. These data are translated into movements of the arm, which pauses here and there as it works like an indecisive chess player. The effect is hypnotic; as the arm moves, the sparkling dust that has settled on it falls off in wispy clouds, sometimes wholly obscuring the box's interior. The ambiguity of authorship suggested by this reliance on machinery in an artistic context is only compounded by the use of it to simulate a natural process. …

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